Iran isn't happy about the latest Middle East protests

Few people in the world are dealing with quite as big a headache these days as General Qassim Suleimani. The wily general Suleimani is the leader of Iran's elite, paramilitary Quds Force, which is responsible for expanding Tehran's military and political influence across the Middle East.

The past few days have not been going well for him.

Lebanon and Iraq, two key countries in Iran's regional strategy, are currently engulfed in widespread protests demanding the ouster of their governments. And those governments? They were formed, or supported, in part by groups whom Suleimani backs. Years of his work could go up in smoke in the coming weeks.

In Lebanon, the Iran-backed militant and political group Hezbollah and its allies have held the largest bloc in parliament since winning big in elections last year. But that has put the group, arguably Tehran's most powerful proxy in the region, in the political crosshairs as hundreds of thousands of Lebanese are in the streets demanding the replacement of the current government with non-political technocrats.

Hezbollah has refused that demand, claiming without much success that the protests are a Western plot. But now that Prime Minister Saad Hariri has defied the group and resigned, the group is in a tight spot: green lighting a technocrat government would kneecap the group's own power, (and Iran's). But merely reshuffling the status quo risks a broader confrontation with the streets.

In Iraq, the chaos following the US invasion in 2003 opened the way for Iran to expand influence within the borders of its long-time rival. In recent years, Tehran-backed militias helped to defeat ISIS and then turned those battlefield bonafides into political power: a coalition of these groups led by a local warlord controls the second largest bloc in parliament.

Maintaining a strong hand in Iraq is so crucial for Iran that when massive protests over unemployment and corruption began a month ago, General Suleimani immediately flew to Baghdad to help coordinate a forceful response. Part of that involved Iran-backed gunmen shooting at protestors. As recently as Wednesday, after protests raged again, Suleimani was said to be back in the Iraqi capital trying to shore up the current government. By yesterday the Prime Minister had provisionally resigned, opening up fresh uncertainty in the country.

Bottom line: Iran has craftily cultivated influence in two of the region's key, democratically-elected governments. The flip side of that clout is responsibility. These governments' incompetence and corruption have not only jeopardized their own survival, they've potentially dealt a blow to Iran's broader regional aims as well. General Suleimani is a skilled and powerful operator: keep an eye on what he does next.

Visit Microsoft on The Issues for a front-row seat to see how Microsoft Public Affairs is thinking about the future of AI and work; cybersecurity and elections; and more. Check back regularly to watch videos, and read blogs and feature stories to see how Microsoft is approaching the issues that matter most. Subscribe for the latest at Microsoft on the Issues.

As protests over the police killing of George Floyd raged across the country, there have been more than 125 instances of journalists being shot with rubber bullets by police, arrested, or in some cases assaulted by protesters while covering the unrest.

Foreign news crews from Germany and Australia have been caught up in the crackdown. Australia's Prime Minister has even called for an investigation. Some of these journalists have simply been caught in the crossfire during surges of unrest, but video and photographic evidence reveals cases where police have deliberately targeted reporters doing their jobs.

More Show less

This week, Ian Bremmer is joined by analyst Michael Hirson to take the Red Pen to an op-ed by New York Times Opinion columnist Bret Stephens.

Today, we're marking up a recent op-ed by New York Times columnist Bret Stephens, entitled "China and the Rhineland Moment." And the subheading here is that "America and its allies must not simply accept Beijing's aggression." Basically, Bret is arguing that US-China relations are at a tipping point brought on by China's implementation of a new national security law for Hong Kong. And he compares this to Hitler's occupation of the Rhineland in 1936, describes it as the first domino to fall in Beijing's ambitions.

More Show less

DRC's new Ebola wave: On the verge of eradicating an Ebola outbreak in the country's east which began back in 2018, the Democratic Republic of the Congo has now identified a fresh wave of cases in the northwestern city of Mbandaka. The disease, which has a fatality rate of 25 – 90 percent depending on the outbreak's character, has already killed five people in recent weeks, prompting the World Health Organization to issue a grim warning that a surge of new cases could occur there in the coming months. (Ebola has an incubation period of about 21 days.) This comes as the central African country of 89 million also grapples with COVID-19 and the world's largest measles outbreak, which has killed 6,779 people there since 2019. In recent weeks, officials from the World Health Organization predicted that the DRC's deadly Ebola crisis, which has killed 2,275 people since 2018, would soon be completely vanquished.

More Show less

1.6 billion: Uganda's president said pandemic-related travel bans could cost his country $1.6 billion in tourism revenues this year. At the same time, with many Ugandan emigrants out of work in other countries hit hard by coronavirus, Uganda risks losing much of the $1.3 billion that they send home every year in remittances.

More Show less